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A very interesting report, recently released by the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians, compares the effects on health of tobacco cigarettes with those of e-cigarettes and other NRT (nicotine replacement therapy) products.

According to the report, the emergence of e-cigarettes has generated a massive opportunity for a consumer- as well as healthcare-led revolution in the way the nicotine is used in society. As the technology of these products improves, the creation of a tobacco-free society becomes more realistic.

However, patterns of use of tobacco and non-tobacco nicotine continue to be monitored closely with an open eye on effects on public health of their use in the long-run.

Below are the key summary points of the report:

  • Smoking is the biggest avoidable cause of death and disability and social inequality in health in the UK.
  • People smoke because they are addicted to nicotine but are harmed by other constituents of tobacco smoke.
  • Provision of the nicotine that smokers are addicted to without the harmful components of tobacco smoke, can prevent most of the harm from smoking.
  • Until recently, nicotine products have been marketed as medicines to help people quit
  • Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is most effective in helping people to stop smoking when used together with health professional input and support, but much less so when used on its own.
  • E-cigarettes are proving much more popular than NRT as a substitute and competitor for tobacco cigarettes.
  • E-cigarettes appear to be effective when used by smokers as an aid to quitting smoking.
  • E-cigarettes are not currently made to medicine standards and are probably more hazardous than NRT.
  • However, the hazard to health arising from long-term vapour inhalation from the e-cigarettes available today is unlikely to exceed 5% of the harm from smoking tobacco.
  • Technological developments and improved production standards could reduce the long-term hazard of e-cigarettes.
  • There are concerns that e-cigarettes will increase tobacco smoking by renormalizing the act of smoking, acting as a gateway to smoking in young people, and being used for temporary, not permanent, abstinence from smoking.
  • Available evidence to date indicates that e-cigarettes are being used almost exclusively as safer alternatives to smoked tobacco, by confirmed smokers who are trying to reduce harm to themselves or others from smoking, or to quit smoking completely.
  • The tobacco industry has become involved in the e-cigarette market and can be expected to try to exploit these products to market tobacco cigarettes and to undermine wider tobacco control work.
  • However, in the interests of public health it is important to promote the use of e-cigarettes, NRT and other non-tobacco nicotine products as widely as possible as a substitute for smoking in the UK.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) plays a leading role in the delivery of high-quality patient care by setting standards of medical practice and promoting clinical excellence. The RCP provides physicians in over 30 medical specialties with education, training and support throughout their careers. As an independent charity representing 32,000 fellows and members worldwide, the RCP advices and works with government, patients, allied healthcare professionals and the public to improve health and healthcare.

Source: Royal College of Physicians, Tobacco Advisory Group.